In the past two years, women’s cricket has experienced a transformation that shows little sign of abating. There have been more matches played in 2016 & 2017 than at any time in ODI history.
At the same time, the first professional domestic T20 leagues have been launched (the WBBL in 2015-16 and the KSL in 2016). Improved contracts are allowing more players than ever to play and train full-time. These factors, coupled with a World Cup played on good surfaces in England, have set the stage for a revolution in ODI batting.
The 2017 Women’s World Cup smashed batting records across the board (everything from tournament run rate, highest partnerships, centuries & fifties scored to sixes hit) and the ODI run rate in 2017 (4.38 RPO) is currently the highest ever for a calendar year.
From the end of the 2013 World Cup, until the conclusion of the 2015 Ashes (referred to as the 2013-15 seasons for the rest of this post), the ODI run rate was 3.87 RPO. Since the 2015 Ashes, that has risen to 4.33 RPO. The percentage of runs scored in boundaries has risen from 38.43% in the 2013-2015 seasons to 44.38% since the 2015 Ashes.
For England, this period of rapid change also coincided with the appointment of head coach Mark Robinson, who took over in the wake of their 2015 Ashes loss. He had some difficult decisions to make early in his tenure, but by all accounts, the changes Robinson has made were key to England’s triumph over India at Lord’s on 23rd July.
During the 2013-2015 seasons, Australia were the dominant batting unit in world cricket. Their run-rate (4.91 RPO) equated to scoring on average 19 more runs per 50 overs than the next best side. Excluding 2nd placed England (4.52 RPO), Australia’s RR outstripped all others sides by at least 49 runs per 50 over innings.
This advantage has been eliminated since the 2015 Ashes. Australia are still one of the strongest batting units (5.21 RPO to England’s 5.27 and New Zealand’s 5.31) but no longer an outlier.
Australia scored five of the eleven 250+ totals posted in the 2013-15 seasons, with no other side managing more than two.
Since the 2015 Ashes, Australia remain the most consistent side in terms of reaching 250+ (13 times) but they don’t dominate the other teams to the previous extent, and have so far been unable to match the top end scoring displayed by other nations.
Australia last scored 300 in an ODI in March 2012. Since then, there have been twelve 300+ totals scored in women’s ODIs, by five different nations.
While England’s run rate (5.27 RPO) and propensity for massive totals have caught the eye (England have scored the four highest ODI totals since the 2015 Ashes), they’ve also dramatically improved as a bowling unit.
Despite the overall increase in ODI run rate, England have actually improved their bowling economy rate since the 2015 Ashes (3.96 RPO) compared with the 2013-2015 seasons (4.23).
This has been down to the successful introduction of new players such as Alex Hartley, but also because of a return to form of several senior players. Brunt, Hazell, Marsh and Shrubsole have all dramatically improved since Robinson took over as coach.
Australia haven’t managed a similar bowling improvement, so have been drawn back into the pack despite improving their run rate as a batting side.
12 of England’s 2017-18 Ashes squad were members of the defeated squad whose display was so lacklustre in 2015, but their confidence and approach to the game couldn’t be more different.
As the tables below indicate, during the 2013-2015 seasons English players were glaringly short of the other top nations in terms of six hitting.
English batters cleared the rope just six times, at a rate of one every 884 balls faced. The only nations with a worse rate of sixes hit and also fewer different individual six-hitters than England, were Bangladesh, Pakistan and Ireland.
Since the 2015 Ashes, England have been at the forefront of a significant increase in the rate of ODI six-hitting.
Australia, like most other nations have massively improved, though not to the same extent as England. English players have gone from collectively hitting sixes at over 530 balls behind the average ODI rate during the 2013-2015 seasons, to hitting them at over 84 balls ahead of the average rate since the 2015 Ashes.
Since the 2015 Ashes, ten different English players have hit an ODI six. There’s clear evidence this improvement is down to mindset and playing environment, in that all ten of those players had played ODIs for England before this period. Only four of them however, (Brunt, Gunn, Shrubsole and Knight) had previously hit a six.
Comparing the list of top six-hitters in the 2013-15 period with the list since the 2015 Ashes illustrates this well. In 2013-15 Katherine Brunt was the highest ranked English player, in 11th place with three sixes.
Englishwomen now occupy three of the top 10 spots. Those three players had batted 48 (Knight), 16 (Beaumont) and 14 (Sciver) times for England before, but had just one ODI six between them. They now rank 1st, 2nd and 4th on England’s all-time list for ODI career sixes.
England have also had five different ODI centurions since the 2015 Ashes, compared with just two (Edwards and Taylor) during the 2013-2015 seasons. Only their World Cup final opponents, India (with six) have seen more different players bring up three figures in ODIs during that time.
Four Australians have scored centuries since the last Ashes, but they will come into the series without the most prolific of them all, Meg Lanning.
Lanning’s absence from the Ashes will be most keenly felt in the ODI series, particularly in run chases. Australia’s strong record batting 2nd (13 wins and 3 losses since the 2015 Ashes) is built on Lanning’s extraordinary prowess in ODI chases.
With eight centuries in just 35 career chases, Lanning has twice as many as the next woman on the list and has made an absurd 22.86% of all the 2nd innings centuries ever scored (35) in the 44 year history of women’s ODIs.
Australia have therefore been comfortable choosing to field in recent times (they have fielded first 8 out of 17 times when wining the toss since the 2015 Ashes) but that may change without Lanning.
England have chosen to bat first 9 out of 12 times when winning the toss since the last Ashes. That’s not a surprise given their extremely strong record batting first – 12 wins and one loss, plus the highest 1st innings average total (280.85) during that period.
Lanning isn’t the be-all and end-all. Australia have always had an exceptional record chasing, especially at home. That said, England’s capacity for chasing is one of the few unproven areas of their game since Robinson took charge. With an 8/3 win/loss record and a highest score of 246 batting 2nd (their loss to India in the opening match of the World Cup), they have yet to convince in the same manner as when they bat first.
As well as missing Lanning’s individual runs and her captaincy, Australia will have to make do without her ultra-reliable partnership with Ellyse Perry (1,534 runs at 5.24 RPO and an average of 109.57).
Australia’s next most prolific pairing is Alex Blackwell & Perry (1,415 runs; 5.10 RPO; average 61.52). It would seem to make sense for Perry and Blackwell, also domestic teammates for NSW, to follow each other in the batting order, but that hasn’t been the case recently for Australia.
Beaumont and Lauren Winfield (913 runs; 4.76 RPO; ave 50.72) need 87 more runs together to be the first England opening pair to bring up 1,000 ODI runs since Sarah Taylor and Caroline Atkins in 2009.
A slight question mark hangs over the England batting line-up’s record in Australia. A number of key players either haven’t played an ODI in Australia (Beaumont, Winfield, Wilson) or don’t have particularly impressive records batting there in the past.
Heather Knight, Sarah Taylor and Natalie Sciver are the only members of the Ashes squad with ODI fifties in Australia. No Englishwoman has ever made an ODI hundred against the Australians in Australia.
Only Lanning has scored more ODI centuries in Australia (4) than Australia vice-captain Alex Blackwell (3). During the 2013/14 Ashes series in Australia, Blackwell scored a half century in each ODI. In home ODIs against England over the course of her career, Blackwell averages 57.86 with one century and four fifties in ten innings.
Among women who have played 10+ ODI innings in Australia, Ellyse Perry has the 2nd highest batting average (58.10) behind only Lindsay Reeler (70.50). Reeler incidentally, was the fastest woman, in terms of innings batted (23) to bring up 1,000 ODI runs.
Even without Lanning (3rd highest average in Australia – 56.12), several members of Australia’s Ashes squad feature prominently: Nicole Bolton is ranked 7th (49.06); Blackwell 10th (44.57) and stand-in captain Rachael Haynes 11th (39.87).
Less happy reading for Australia are the home records of Beth Mooney (ave 17.00), Elyse Villani (13.44) and Alyssa Healy (11.86). The Ashes may be a final reckoning for Villani as an ODI player, with three half centuries in 25 innings, she has yet to show the form she does at domestic level.
In truth, there’s not much to choose between the two batting units but the presence of Knight and Sciver in England’s top five is what gives their bowling attack much greater balance. England can take the field with a possible seven bowling options, mitigating against any one (or two) players having a bad day.
Australia have struggled to fill their 50 overs to such an extent that they’ve resorted to bowling Villani and even on one occasion, Nicole Bolton. This puts enormous pressure on their frontline quartet of Perry, Schutt, Jonassen and Beams.
Ashleigh Gardner has performed well with the ball since debuting earlier this year, but beyond her the options are either unproven or ineffective.
Among ODI bowlers who have bowled 25+ overs since the last Ashes, Villani has the 5th worst economy rate in world cricket (5.95 RPO). On the same scale, England’s Laura Marsh (3.41) and Katherine Brunt (3.45) have respectively been the 6th and 8th most economical bowlers. Hartley (3.90) has also been impressive.
While she didn’t feature in the 2013/14 Ashes, Marsh’s 25 ODI wickets in Australia (including 16 at the 2009 World Cup) make her the 2nd most successful overseas bowler on Australian soil, behind New Zealand’s Aimee Watkins.
Among ODI bowlers with 20+ ODI wickets in Australia, Marsh has the 4th lowest bowling average (16.52) and is the only active player in the top 10.
Perry (21.77) is the first current Australian player on the list at 11th. Perry has taken more ODI wickets in Australia (74) than any other player. The next highest current internationals on the list are Jonassen (with 27) and Marsh (25).
With Australia the holders, the Ashes points system requires England to win at least one of the limited overs series if they are to regain the trophy. Australia have never lost a bilateral ODI series at home to England.
Two rained off warm-ups games have complicated England’s preparations but the World Champions deserve their favourites tag for the ODI series. Lanning’s injury, combined with other selection issues give the visitors the slight edge.
ODI runs since the 2015 Ashes:
ODI wickets since the 2015 Ashes: